Angel City, Southern California’s NWSL expansion team, has yet to sign a player, play a game or commit to a playing style.
But it does have a coach.
And for Freya Coombe, that absence of definition is what made the Angel City coaching job so attractive in the first place.
“The blank canvas presents such an exciting opportunity to get your stamp on the culture, on the players, and be able to really start with no excuses,” said Coombe, who will be formally introduced as the team’s first manager Monday. “It certainly presents a new, authentic, exciting opportunity to start afresh with that new culture.”
Coombe, who played and coached for seven years with England’s Reading FC, is currently managing the NWSL’s NJ/NY Gotham FC, where she guided the nation’s longest-standing women’s professional soccer club through a remake this season, going from Sky Blue FC to the grittier Gotham brand.
Her teams are 10-8-11 over the last two years, reaching the final of last spring’s Challenge Cup where it lost to Portland on penalty kicks. Coombe will join Angel City when the NWSL season ends this fall.
While she embraces the chance to start from scratch in Southern California — which hasn’t had a top-tier women’s team since the Los Angeles Sol folded in 2010 after one season — she also recognizes the challenges in that, especially given her new team’s deep pockets and celebrity-driven ownership group.
“We’re going to be the team that people want to beat before we’ve even kicked a ball. We’re going to have a target on our back right from the get-go,” she said. “I always feel flattered when teams are having to do that to you because it means they are worried about what you can do.
We’re going to be the team that people want to beat before we’ve even kicked a ball.
“Having an expansion team is never easy. It’s not just the case of bringing in all these stars. There’s a lot of thought that needs to go into it, navigating not only the expansion draft [but] with the college draft, being able to try to get that chemistry on the field.”
Coombe’s experience with the NWSL was a crucial reason she landed the Angel City job said Eniola Aluko, the team’s sporting director.
“There’s definitely a process,” she said. “Part of my strategy was to bring in a coach … who has experience within NWSL and understood what the NWSL entailed, understood the complicated rules, understood the players, understood the transitional style of the league and had coaches in the league.”
Coombe’s Gotham teams have played a possession-oriented, short-passing style but she plans to bring a more versatile brand of soccer to Angel City, which will influence the kind of players she and Aluko sign.
“One thing I think that this league has shown is the importance to have a bit of tactical flexibility,” she said. “We’re seeing teams that are being able to put out different formations. So in terms of recruitment, we’re doing a good job on recruiting those players that are able to be tactically flexible.”
In addition to Coombe, Angel City has also hired Robert Udberg as assistant head coach. Udberg, who was in charge of player development and performance management for the Chelsea women’s team for seven years, will direct Angel City’s sports science, nutrition and conditioning programs in addition to his coaching duties. He most recently worked at CHX Performance, a London-based consultancy focused on physical and mental well-being in the corporate environment.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.